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Is my relationship toxic or is it my mental health?

Relationships can be complicated. When you’re struggling in a relationship, it can be hard to tell if the issues are due to underlying mental health problems or if the relationship itself is unhealthy or toxic. Teasing apart what’s going on requires honest self-reflection and an examination of your partner’s behaviors and attitudes. This article provides guidance on identifying signs of toxic relationships versus indications of mental health issues.

Signs of a Potentially Toxic Relationship

Here are some red flags that your relationship may be unhealthy or toxic:

  • Controlling or demanding behavior – Your partner tries to control where you go, who you see, how you dress, etc. They make demands instead of requests.
  • Possessiveness – Your partner frequently acts jealous regarding your friends, time away, or activities. They view you as their property.
  • Criticism or contempt – Your partner puts you down, criticizes you (publicly or privately), or treats you with contempt. Sarcasm and cynicism are common.
  • Verbal abuse – Yelling, name-calling, curses, and threats are typical. Your partner may gaslight you and distort the truth.
  • Isolation – Your partner cuts you off from family and friends or guilts you for spending time with others. They make you feel alone.
  • Financial control – Your partner restricts your access to finances, withholds money, or prohibits you from working or going to school.
  • Sexual coercion – Your partner pressures you to perform sexual acts you aren’t comfortable with or tries to make you feel guilty for refusing sex.
  • Physical violence – Hitting, shoving, restraining, destroying property, driving recklessly, or making threats to harm you or loved ones.
  • Double standard – What’s acceptable for your partner isn’t ok for you. For example, they can see friends or flirt with others, but get angry if you do.

If several of these warning signs are present, you may be in an unhealthy or toxic relationship. The more signs that apply and the more intense the behaviors, the more likely the relationship is toxic.

Could My Mental Health Be Contributing?

Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, or borderline personality disorder can negatively impact relationships in many ways, including:

  • Increased conflict due to irritability, mood swings, anger issues, or emotional reactivity
  • Withdrawal, lack of communication, and feelings of isolation due to depression or anxiety
  • Attachment issues, fear of abandonment, and mistrust due to trauma or unstable sense of self
  • Obsessive behaviors, jealousy, or attempts to control due to anxiety or fear of rejection
  • Difficulty empathizing, appreciating others’ perspectives, or compromising due to egocentrism or black-and-white thinking

If you see your mental health reflected in any of these examples, it could be exacerbating relationship problems or creating dysfunction on its own.

Assessing My Own Contribution

To gain clarity, be honest with yourself about any ways you may be contributing to the relationship problems:

  • Do I say or do things I later regret due to my mental health symptoms?
  • Do I struggle to communicate my feelings or needs calmly and clearly?
  • Am I attentive to my partner’s wants and emotions or am I self-absorbed?
  • Do I show appreciation and affection or mainly criticize and demand?
  • Am I reliable and consistent or do I act out impulsively at times?
  • Do I accept responsibility for my actions or mostly blame my partner or others?

Taking ownership of the ways your mental health impacts the relationship is an important step. You cannot control your partner but you can control yourself. Make meaningful efforts to manage your symptoms, communicate effectively, and treat your partner with respect.

Assessing My Partner’s Behavior

It’s also essential to pay attention to your partner’s behaviors and attitudes. Consider whether your partner:

  • Listens to you and cares about your needs or mainly focuses on themselves?
  • Shows empathy for your mental health struggles or belittles you for them?
  • Takes responsibility for their words/actions or blames you when issues arise?
  • Is respectful and supportive, even during disagreements or becomes hurtful/hostile?
  • Seeks solutions together or tries to control you and the situation?
  • Apologizes and changes hurtful behaviors or denies problems and continues negative patterns?

A caring, supportive partner who treats you with respect even during conflicts may simply be struggling with the impacts of your mental health issues. An unhealthy relationship involves a consistent lack of empathy and lots of manipulation, criticism, and control.

Deciding if Professional Help is Needed

Seeking counseling can assist you in determining what dynamics are at play. A few signs it’s time to get professional support:

  • You feel confused about what is normal in relationships and what is unhealthy
  • Arguments frequently escalate into extreme conflict
  • Your partner refuses to take responsibility or acknowledge their role
  • You feel anxious or depressed regarding the relationship
  • You or your partner use threats, violence, or intimidation
  • Substance misuse is present
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-harm behaviors occur

An experienced mental health professional can assess the relationship dynamics along with your mental health status. They can help you more accurately determine what aspects of the relationship may be toxic versus what issues are related to individual mental health struggles.

Therapy to Address Relationship Problems

If therapy confirms that the relationship is unhealthy, the counselor can support you in:

  • Processing the emotional impact and building self-esteem
  • Learning to set healthy boundaries and standards for yourself
  • Safety planning if domestic violence is occurring
  • Deciding if the relationship is salvageable vs should be ended
  • Figuring out how to leave the relationship if that is the healthiest choice

Therapy is also vital if mental illness is causing dysfunction in an otherwise healthy relationship. The counselor can assist you in:

  • Treating the underlying mental health disorder
  • Coping with symptoms in constructive ways
  • Communicating needs and managing emotions in the relationship
  • Repairing damage that occurred and re-establishing the connection

Tips for Improving the Relationship

Making proactive efforts can help stabilize and strengthen the relationship whether formal therapy is involved or not. Useful approaches include:

  • Get educated – Learn more about mental health issues and healthy vs toxic relationships so you can identify challenges accurately.
  • Communicate – Have open discussions where you take turns listening attentively and expressing yourself honestly but respectfully.
  • Set boundaries – Decide what behaviors you will and won’t tolerate from a partner and stick to those standards.
  • Manage stress – Take care of your mental health needs and manage stress levels proactively.
  • Spend quality time – Plan enjoyable activities that will reconnect you physically and emotionally.
  • Seek support – Get help from trusted loved ones, support groups, or faith communities.
  • Remain hopeful – Believe your situation can improve if both partners are committed to positive change.

When to End the Relationship

Ending a toxic relationship, despite the challenges, is almost always healthier than remaining in one. Consider moving on from the relationship if your partner:

  • Takes no responsibility for their behaviors and blames you entirely
  • Refuses to acknowledge problems or accept they need to change
  • Does not follow through consistently when they agree to get help
  • Continues behaviors like cheating, lying, manipulation, abuse, violence, etc.
  • Creates an environment where you feel belittled, controlled, or afraid

Leaving is also wise if your own mental health is deteriorating or you engage in destructive coping behaviors as a result of the relationship stress. Protecting your well-being has to be the priority.

Getting Support for Transitioning Out

Making major relationship changes when struggling with mental illness can be very difficult and destabilizing. Be sure to create a strong support system, including:

  • Therapist guidance on managing the transition in a healthy way
  • Trusted friends and family members who can provide practical help
  • Legal, financial, housing, or career assistance if needed
  • Domestic violence advocacy services if your safety is at risk
  • Support groups focused on relationship challenges or your mental health needs

By utilizing good coping strategies and external supports, you can overcome the stresses of moving on from toxic relationships or challenge mental health issues destabilizing healthy ones. There are always healthier possibilities ahead when you commit to positive change.


Distinguishing between mental health issues and toxic relationship dynamics can be difficult but is critically important. Honest assessment of your own behaviors and your partner’s actions is key. Seeking professional help can provide guidance on improving challenging relationships or finding the courage to let go of unhealthy ones. With consistent effort, self-care, and support, you can find peace and stable relationships despite mental health struggles.